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Writing a powerful CV: Key DOs and DON’Ts

4 months ago, Damian Rhodes

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Over the last 18 years of recruiting I have read thousands of CVs.  Your CV, or résumé, gives an insight into the person you are.  

The aim should be twofold: Firstly, allow software to identify specific key-words; Secondly, enable an employer ascertain your relevance for a role in less than a minute.

Whether you are a global CEO or have just two year's experience, the following five areas will have an impact:

BASICS

  • DO have a short summary. Two or three lines are sufficient. What are you looking to do next and why?
  • DON’T include reference details or “references available on request”.  This is unnecessary and the best employers willl always ask
  • DO include reasons for leaving jobs within the last ten years which lasted less than two years.  Be honest and factual without sounding bitter!
  • DON’T include spelling or grammar mistakes – get someone to read it through!  I would not personally hire someone who presented as careless before they were even hired.

 KISS:  KEEP IT SHORT & SIMPLE

  • DO  keep to one or two pages.  Use concise, relevant information including key words which may be picked up by a computer as well as by a human being.  A CEO of a luxury retail firm recently excluded a C level candidate who presented an 8 page CV.
  • DON’T include irrelevant information such as education before university or employment details from a decade ago (company name, title and dates are sufficient)
  • DO  include a one-line description of employers including industry / sector and product lines.  Can someone find out in an instant what that organisation does?
  • DON’T write a whole paragraph describing or even selling your current or former employer.  A Senior Manager presented a CV describing the competitor of a prospective employer as the "most prestigious in the industry."  Ouch!

FOCUS ON ACHIEVEMENTS

  • DO focus on where you added value more than listing job duties  Prospective employers want to know whether 
  • DON’T cut and paste a  job description or go into detail for something over a decade ago
  • DO quantify achievements where possible: Eg in sales: what revenue did you earn?  In accounting: what cost or time savings did you achieve?
  • DON’T talk about achievements in High School if you have worked more than two years after graduation.  I was proud of being top of the class in Latin when I was 14 but it wouldn't appear on my CV now!

WRITE IN THE THIRD PERSON

  • DO write in the third person
  • DON’T  use “I”, “my”, “we”, or “our”  
  • DON’T repeat your name throughout the CV more than once   "John helped transform the  " sounds pretentious!
  • DO use simple phrasing.  Eg “Reduced costs by …” rather than “She reduced” or “Sarah reduced”  This saves you space and reads much better

MAKE IT PERSONAL

  • DO include hobbies, voluntary work, teams you belong to or cultural - and team-building activities.  There could be an alignment between their culture and your personality and values.
  • DON’T include marital status, political views or religious beliefs unless relevant.  I have (sadly) known people to discriminate, sometimes illegaly, with this information.
  • DO include links to relevant social media – especially LinkedIn.  Always ensure your LinkedIn is up to date and has a professional photograph on it.
  • DON’T include a photo on your CV if it isn’t relevant, looks unprofessional or doesn’t look like you!
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